Microsoft could be "a great steward" of TikTok's US assets if reported sale talks succeed, says Josh Elman, an investor in the app's predecessor Musical.ly

  • VC Josh Elman, an early investor in TikTok predecessor Musical.ly, said he thinks Microsoft could be a good fit for TikTok if a reported purchase deal for its US operations goes through.
  • President Trump has been pressing for a sale to an American company, and issued an executive order this week that would later ban TikTok from continuing US operations itself.
  • But with parent company ByteDance's tech spread across multiple products, splitting up the app's operations could be difficult. 
  • In his pre-VC career, Elman is known for serving in product management and other roles at company after company before they went public, including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Veteran VC Josh Elman, an early investor in TikTok predecessor Musical.ly, said he thinks TikTok will be in good hands if a potential sale of the company's US unit to Microsoft goes through. 

Microsoft has reportedly been in talks to acquire TikTok's US operations, which have been valued at $50 billion by some investors. And now the deal is being pushed by President Trump, who wants an American company to buy the US side of TikTok, which is owned by China-based parent company ByteDance.  

Elman called Microsoft "a great steward of important independent properties," like LinkedIn, Minecraft, and Github. 

"I have high hopes they could do the same here if this comes together," Elman wrote in an email exchange with Business Insider.

In recent weeks, President Trump has amped up the pressure on ByteDance to sell TikTok's operations in the United States to a US company, alleging that the app presents a risk that the Chinese government will use it to spy on Americans. TikTok is a popular social network based on shared short-form videos. 

Trump's threats culminated in dual executive orders Thursday night barring US companies and individuals from doing business with TikTok, as well as with Chinese messaging app WeChat. The orders are set to take effect 45 days from their issuance. TikTok characterized the Trump administration as showing "no due process or adherence to the law."

Elman, who was both an investor and board observer for Musical.ly before it was absorbed by TikTok in 2017 and rebranded, said the mechanics of the deal splitting off US operations are unclear.

"I am still confused as to what pieces they can truly separate out to operate for different countries," Elman wrote.  "I have heard a lot of the ByteDance technology is shared across products."

Back in 2016, Elman was celebrating his firm Greylock Partners' investment in music video-sharing app Musical.ly, which he saw as a triumph of cultural cross-fertilization between China and the US. 

"It's the first company to be headquartered in China, designed in China, but popular in the US," Elman said at the time. "Finally we're seeing talented people who live in that ecosystem in that world and actually transcend it and build products in the US."

Elman, now a board partner at Greylock, declined to comment about the current politics of the situation surrounding TikTok's ability to operate in the US, except to say "I don't know enough of the rules of each country to fully comment on the security concerns. It does look like an area where digital regulation gets more and more important."

CIA analysts said they have yet found no reason to conclude that Chinese government agencies are now using TikTok to intercept communications from US smartphones, The New York Times reported Friday, but also said it's possible that they could use the app to do so at some point.

Elman is known in the tech world for jumping into companies before they hit it big. He worked at pre-IPO versions of Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin before becoming an investor and joining Greylock. 

"What I like to look for early is a combination of a new product that serves a human need and early indications of meaningful retention, driven by a thoughtful and ambitious founding team," Elman said. "In the case of Musical.ly, there were building something different and special to harness people's creativity into a new form of entertainment, and the team and especially Alex Zhu were just so thoughtful about the product and what they could build."

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